Monday, July 30, 2007

Mainstream Media

The NY Times has an extensive profile of robotics at MIT, which, like many of the Times' science & technology articles, is dumbed-down to the point of being unreadable.

The author, Robin Marantz Henig, is apparently an accomplished science writer who strives to make her work attainable for the general masses. Unfortunately, she glosses over significant issues, focuses on the wrong things, and mixes up some important details.

For example, the author understates the complexities of machine vision, pattern recognition and mastering language. She criticizes current research for being unsophisticated, but seems impressed by MIT robots from 14 years ago. For some strange reason, Henig feels the need to describe Prof. Rodney Brooks’ “rubbery features and bulgy blue eyes” (perhaps this make him seem more “human” for readers). Finally, she appears to be much more enamored with the robots’ hardware while the vast majority of the “sophistication” lies in the software and algorithms controlling the machines.

I understand that the Times is designed for the average American, and more scholarly papers belong in specialized academic journals, but works of this nature do a disservice to both reader and subject. Instead of employing professional writers who claim an ability to digest complex topics for the public, media outlets should seek genuine subject matter experts with a complementary gift for writing (they do exist).

Read at your own risk. I gave up about halfway through.

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